On the northern edge of Alaska, says journalist Charles Wohlforth, the impacts of human-caused climate change have become part of daily life. Spring is coming earlier, and Iñupiaq whaling crews are making ever-narrower escapes from cracking sea ice. In The Whale and the Supercomputer, Wohlforth looks at such changes from the perspectives of two very different — but intertwined — cultures. For generations, he writes, the Iñupiaq have observed the Alaskan climate, and many have gained a deep understanding of the subtle forces at work. In more recent years, climate scientists have also been paying close attention to the Arctic ice, snow and tundra.
In Barrow, Alaska, where
Iñupiaq people have worked closely with scientists for
decades, Wohlforth looks at the complex and surprising
relationships between the two groups. Though Wohlforth criticizes
some climate researchers for their obsession with computer models
and their distance from the real, frozen world, he doesn’t
dive for easy answers. Instead, he approaches both groups with
respect and curiosity.
portraits are wonderfully detailed, and never simplistic; Oliver
Leavitt, a whaling-crew leader who appears early in the book, is
revealed later to be "one of the most powerful men in Alaska," the
chairman of a Native corporation and a strong supporter of oil
drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Wohlforth meanders through his material, stopping off to describe
the international politics of whaling and the quirky habits of
Arctic ecologists and snow scientists. It’s not until halfway
through the book, for instance, that he supplies a primer on
greenhouse gases. But his unpredictable structure is engaging, and
his stories reflect off one another in satisfying ways. When it
comes to something as large as global climate change, a series of
small windows may provide the best view.
The Whale and the Supercomputer: On the Northern
Front of Climate Change
322 pages, hardcover, $25. North Point Press,
Perspectives on change — climate change
You can buy this book and help High Country News, too.
BookSense.com is an on-line family of independent booksellers in communities near you. When you use the link below to buy a book through BookSense.com, you'll not only support local booksellers, you'll also help us: Five-and-a-half percent of each purchase goes to High Country News.